tv Tavis Smiley WHUT March 23, 2011 8:30am-9:00am EDT
tavis: good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. as the nation of japan continues to recover from the deadly earthquake, tsunami and nuclear scare, there is a realization that the death toll could have been far greater. so first up a conversation about the situation in japan with acclaimed architect hitoshi abe. he now heads the department of architecture and urban design here in ucla. also eve ensler is here from the "vagina mon loges." she is soaping city of joy. we're glad you can join hitoshi
abe and eve ensler coming up. >> all i need his name is james and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> everyone making -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. >> thank you. >> hitoshi abe serveses a chair
of the ucla urban design and architecture. he's doing the work with brad pitt make it right foundation in the lower ninth ward in new orleans. great to have you on this program. >> thank you. tavis: i know you're the eighth generation born and raised in sendai one of the hardest hits city. how's your family? >> they're doing fine. actually, i was so worried because they are living in an area called wakabaishi so close to the area that was hit. also i couldn't reach them for two days because the phone wasn't working and so on. so basically i was freaking out, worried about my parents. luckily two days after i could reach them through my brother's telephone and he told me that they're fine.
that was a really big relief. tavis: i could imagine. >> yes. tavis: as an architect -- first of all, your first concern is for your family. but as an architect who has built -- a lot of buildings back in your native country and in this region where you grew up, when you see the damage wrought by this earthquake, 9.0, this earthquake and tsunami, as an architect you think what? >> again, nobody builds a building for this will kind of earthquake. mi quthghwhe t might happen once in aonliilli and luckily, actually, i have so many buildings built arod area and my office is still there. xrxrxr da mages. to say that that area was
well prepared for the earthquake. even they have this kind of earthquake structure. they have also like an alley, sort of an earthquake -- but still you can't really, really be prepared for this kind of devastation. and tsunami. since we have so many earthquakes that we have a kind offense that the tsunami is about this size. it may be about one meter. but this one went over like 15 to 20 meters. and you can't really build a building especially houses prepared for this. it's going be way too expensive. so again this went beyond the imagination of anybody. and probably it is very difficult to prepare the
building against such kind of a -- like a strong, strong earthquake. tavis: for those buildings that did survive, and to your point many of the buildings that you designed were in this region, maybe they suffered minor damage but they're still standing. what do you attribute that to that they're still standing? >> i've been just lucky to have a building in a much safer area. if you look at sendai, most of the city area is sitting on an old area so that the ancient people knew where the safe place is with a very strong sort of a -- an underground condition. luckily most of my buildings standing there, there is only one building sitting by that area, it was little bit protected by that sort of that
bay so that it didn't get hit by that wave. i know if i did the house in the area with the city hit by the tsunami, there's no way that i could design something against that. tavis: with all that said, it is true though that this could have been so much worse. it's always hard to keep -- it's always hard to remember that and to be -- to focus on that when you look and survey the damage that was done and yet it could have been much worse. >> yes, because again, sendai is known for this earthquake. we're predicting every 30 years there's kind of a big one. so i remember when i was in high school there was a quick big one in which actually required to change the cord for the earthquake in japan. so it was quite big.
that area was well-prepared for again the -- the way you build a building, also the way to notify people so they put a sensor along the coastline so they could notify the hit of the earthquake before -- like 30 seconds before it hits so that people knew the earthquake is coming and how big it will be. but still, you know, it couldn't help everydy but still it also helped so m le pechlehild w coupeav been therwise. tavis: i've done a lot of wrk for this show and for pbs, t network relati toro new leannele and hurricane katrina. so the houses that you have been behind designgbr with ad pitt in the lower ninth ward, i spent time in those houses, done interviews, talk to people now live there, etc. so i've seen the work that you do. i raise katrina because we learned a lot about the people
of new orleans and the aftermath of hurricane katrina. what is it that the nation, that the world is learning about the people of japan after this earthquake and tsunami? >> actually, i'm sure you've seen how people are behaving under this crisis. and it's kind of -- i'm so proud that the people are dealing with this disaster. people are really helping each other. what happened was that the large system totally destroyed so that you can buy stuff in a large supermarket because they're so much relying on the large distribution system. but pop and mom store -- tavis: mom and pop, yes. >> they are the ones that are distributing food to everybody because they are run by one person who has the energy for the good. and that system is working.
and also some people with a lot of rice giving their food to somebody else. so the smallest system, the community is really, really kind of helping to survive during this difficult time. tavis: how concerned are you, i know this is not your area of expertise nor is it mine but you to be concerned, although we're hearing that it's starting to it stabilize these nuclear plants but as a native of japan what do you make of -- >> that's a ncg bitoerco mn too. i talked to my friends there and my parent therbout and right now -- parents there about this and right now they're trying not to think about it. they know that if they freak out about this, that will do more damage. so again the -- they know that
the -- how to kind of let it go and survive as much as they can. so i think right now what we can do best at least if we're in that circumstances not to think and hope that something really good happens to save that problem and meanwhile they're really, really trying to focus on issues in front of them, food, water, and gas to survive. tavis: so finally here, when you're this far away from your family in a disaster like this, you feel what? you feel hopeless, thankful that they're alive -- >> i feel guilty. i feel really guilty because my heart is there. i can feel the pain. but also i cannot help them directly. and then i'm here talking about it but still, you know, i'm not there. i feel so guilty that i'm not
there being with them. and i'm trying to actually do something i can do here and trying to organize people to think about the reconstruction of the area. but still i feel guilty. tavis: well, that's where your exert tease comes in. you got people thinking and talking about the reconstruction of the area. and this is where you come in. so now it's time for do you go to work and i'm going let you do that. all the best to you and your family. thanks for coming and talking to me. up next the playwright eve ensler. stay with us. tavis: please to welcome eve ensler the iconic playwright-author. she has "i am also a creature." in february she opened a new center for women and young girls
in the congo. it's called city of joy. i am pleased to have you back and more pleased that you are staying committed to the women of the congo. this is your issue. >> it is. i think what's going to the women out congo,ing is what's happening at the heart of the world. if the heart's not functioning the rest of the world's not going to function. everything about the congo represents the history of clone yism, savory, oppression, capitalism, sexism. it's all kind of merged into one caldron. if we can change things and support the women to change then it will happen. if you can turn it around there then it will spread. it's sort of like the situation in tunisia and libya. it's the same thing that could happen with women and obviously
men joining in but with women as leaders. tavis: what can happen in congo what's happening in the middle east is a great comparative example. and yet, i wonder how you give traction to that subject given all the angst all that what the women are enduring. they're being hit hard by the recession. you know the story. how do you get treaks on an issue halfway around the world when women here feel like they are under attack? it is a war on women on this country. >> i think -- this is my own personality experience, when things are really bad for me, if i reach out to someone who's worse off, i get better. i have been surviving cancer and all of the through it the women of congo were on my mind. even a day before my operation. their struggle saved my life because no matter what i was going through, i knew it was much worse in the congo.
i think in a way if you can reach out and to your sisters who are far away, you know, there's nothing -- i'm not just saying suffering is suffering but somehow if you can reach out of your own suffering it changes your suffering. there's a war on women everywhere. there's a war on people at this point in civilization. i know every single time that we have incredible support for the women of congo. you know in two days the activists across d -- the planet raised money from across the my experience is that people do really care about the women of congo because they understand that if you allow anyone on the planet to be treated the way the women in congo are treated it will affect all of us. tavis: last year you were leaving to catch a plane to
i did not know between then and now that you would be battling >> i didn't either. tavis: who knows the twist and turns that life takes? so give me your reflections on this battle? >> i was diagnosed last march 23. and i was on my way to haiti. we have two big projects in congo and haiti and i couldn't go. you know, i know it sounds strange to say, everything was grueling but it was transformative. i think for me i've never been a sick person. and i think you know each of us has like the mandela inside of us and from 12:00 to 3:00 we've got compassion -- if we're a woman we have compassion for
women. from six to 12 we don't have anymore compassion. it's amazing that i've spent so much time with the women of viss rated by rape or who have lost their organs or uterine and there i was losing all the same things. it was this incredible moment of solidarity. when i went back in november after just coming out of chemo and having the final surgery i was in such connection with the women. i thought all right, for whatever reason this has opened my heart, open my being to a deeper way to the suffering of the world and it's made my completely connected. like i don't feel it's us and them. there's the world and each one of us is connected to the suffering to everybody. i think the fact that we have passports and we line it up so there's people who matter,
people who don't. it's all a big story. it's a big story. each person's suffering is intrinsic. if we don't understand that yet we are lost, you know? wouldn't since you mentioned that you found yourself liing in a bed losing the same body parts that these women have lost, you obviously write about this in this poem. but the way that you were losing it and the condition at which they were losing it were two very different things. it's a two-part question. talk to me about the irony of losing the same body parts something that you dedicated your life too, your whole body to, number one. but what did it say to you in the way that they were impacted by it the way you were impacted by it. >> absolutely. i could afford and get an operation. first of all, ied that privilege of having chemo therapy.
there's no chemo therapy in congo. you have to search everywhere to find a cat scan machine. they wouldn't have ever been able to have any of the things that i was given to support them. they would have just died or exiled or they would have been sent out or they would have never have been -- in most cases they would have never have been treated. i look at the privilege of having insurance. how many people in this country just die because they can't afford operations? it's insanity we're living in a country where we don't understand that health care is a right. and that's across the planet. in congo the majority of people are hard pressed to find something to eat at any given day. then we're talk about the conditions in which they live. today i just got a call, there's a particular road that runs through bucabu.
it's the concept soft a road. in the town that used to have 50,000 there's now a million because they've all fled there from wars. all day long, hundreds and thousands of people search for a banana, trying to find an end meet in some way. today one of the trucks because they have no brakes just lost control and just killed six children on the row. that's a daily happening in eastern congo where live is extremeish like that because of the lack of value that we in the world have for people, you know? tavis: the question that i'm that do the kind of work that you do day in and day out is how it is that you remain hopeful. when you are exposed to this much evil in the world, what is -- what is that thing that makes the difference between -- the difference between getting depressed and want to just kill
yourself because the world is just horrible and i don't want to be here anybody and these are so intractable that i don't want to do anything about them, what's the difference wanting to do what you're doing and having to get it done? >> this is an example of what keeps me going. we opened city of joy. ait it's an amazing place. it's like pushing uice boulders up a mountain where there's no electricity. but we did it. as we started we hired a group of women workers. the contractors didn't know what we did. these women started. they were so down on themselves. they're all survivors. they had no self-esteem, they had no money. but they started to sing and build and sing and build. when i went there in november,
they were dancing with buckets on their heads. let me try the bucket. of course, i fell on the ground. meanwhile they built the city of joy and their singing and their aln i walls in the city of joy. the women were dancing with bricks on their head. last week they did an interview on the radio, and they said we were the first graduates of the city of joy. we went from victims to survivors and now we're leaders. we gave them a $20,000 grant and now they're going be builders. and that gives me hope. that is change. that is palpable change. had s women feel no right to exist on the earth to beingeandders a people ree world.resirsnt and value in to eccus on the women of cgose bauy theechave taken my heart. they have my spirit. i'm there. i don't know why. if you make a decision to focus someone and change that
something, everything gets better. tavis: that answers the why question, that that's why you do this. >> yes. tavis: let me close this conversation by going back to your cancer survival. i read this poem that you wrote that just blew me away, the gift of cancer. i talked to so many folks during the years who have battled this disease, lost friends, my executive producer on my radio show, a black 42-year-old whom died of cancer just a year or so ago. i know the story all too well unfortunately. and yet, i was struck by your phrase "the gift of cancer." not everybody sees cancer the way you do. tell me about why you wrote that poem? >> i think the world has been insecure i have had expect taces to be insecure. i just had expectations that i would survive. what cancer did -- and i really
don't understand it was it burned off what didn't belong here. i suddenly lived in a world of cancer. it's carcinogenic. it's here. and we treat it like we can't talk about. it's one of those that beaus. no one's going to get it although everybody has it. and i suddenly realize, no, no, it's here. it's horrible. but we have to make sure everybody gets provided health care and access to transform it. and we've got to see it as tool of our own transformation so it wakes us up to other people. when i sat in the chemo infusion suite i felt in such solidarity with every person who had cancer. i'm in the landscape of love because we're all in this struggle together. i think anybody that breaks down your wall of separateness. here's a disease that has dividing cells and it is the
thing that brought me into unity. it's opposites that brings us into the greatest transformation. actually you're in more unity than you ever did before. tavis: for those who didn't get the book, "i am an emotional creature." >> i'm very excited about it. we're going to start the commercial production in south africa. we're going to go to paris and then this country. my dream is that it will be the next part of the revolution and i tell you if teenage girls wake-up, if teenage girls take it back this whole world will be back. they have more gut-filled open-hearted wisdom. and i feel that if we look at the oppression of the girls how beaten down they are, how tamed and muted and lamed and undone if we reverse that, it's like
giving back another natural resource. tavis: i always celebrate eve's humanity. it's hard to find someone with more courage, commit wrment, character connected to things that people care about than eve ensler. her book is called "i am an emotional creature." aren't we all? all the best to you. thank you. i'm glad you're here. i mean that any way you want to take it. i'm glad you are here. thanks for tuning in. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley on pbs.org. >> join me next time for a conversation with twitter co-founder biz stone on the global impact of social media. that's next time. we'll see you then. >> all i know his name is james reading. >> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference -- >> thank you. >> you help us all live better.